“And for the precious things of the earth and fulness thereof, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush.” – Deuteronomy 33:16
Moses was nearing the time of his passing into the spiritual world, and after the eastern custom, having called the tribes together, he pronounced a blessing upon each of them. The words of our text form a part of the blessing pronounced upon Joseph as represented by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.
The blessing of the text must have brought back wonderful memories, for the story of Israel as a nation began with the appearance of the Lord in the burning bush. The Israelites had lived as a subject race in Egypt for over two centuries, and yet had been kept quite distinct from the Egyptians. It is remarkable that the peoples had not wholly mingled, for the very name of Jehovah had been lost during the stay in Egypt. But to Moses in his eightieth year was given the experience at the burning bush. It was then that he heard the command to lead the people to the land promised to their fathers. He at first shrank from the great task, and only when he was convinced by miracles that the Lord would be with him did he undertake it. But he who dwelt in the bush took the people across the sea, fed them in the wilderness, protected them from their enemies, and finally brought them to the borders of the promised land. How difficult had been the way! How often had the people rebelled, and wished that they might go back to Egypt! Even Moses was at times discouraged. But now the journey’s end was being reached, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that his leadership had not been in vain. As he is about to resign his authority to Joshua, he thinks of how the Lord had been with them and had led them all the way, and commends the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh to the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.
To the Jews Jehovah was invisible; of Him they were not to attempt to make any likeness. Yet, although invisible, they felt that He was God of gods and Lord of lords, and knew that it was He that dwelt in the bush, the bramble. To have appeared in the olive, the vine, or the fig would have seemed more appropriate, but He had been heard from the bush.
In this we have revealed a fundamental truth of religion, that the Lord dwells in the commonest experiences of human life, and happy is he who sees Him there. For as the days and years pass, and as a man passes the threescore years and ten, he will remember the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.
In this blessing we see the bringing together of the beginning and the ripening of a spiritual experience, a perception of the truth and goodness of the Lord’s providence over us.
What should this experience mean to us? First it is the perception of growth. As we grow in years, there should be a larger and larger appropriation of the truths of the Word into life. Moses is a representative of the Law, and as the years passed, he grew wiser, his leadership became more firm and authoritative. So it is with every good man, as he learns the truth and absorbs it into his being, for then these truths are made his very own.
The fashion of today is to disparage doctrine, nor can we altogether blame this tendency, for much of present day doctrine is irrational and unworthy of the name. But there is a true doctrine of life and of immortality, and it is well for us if, as we grow older, we learn and absorb the true and real lessons of experience. Then our confidence in spiritual things will grow stronger, and we shall be more and more confirmed in the heavenly way of life.
There is one sign of the growth of character in the case of Moses that should be ours, the growing exaltation of duty. Moses, entrusted with the task of making known the Divine commands, was a practical man. He knew that the commands were to be obeyed. They were no mere theories of life to be talked about and played with. They were the most real of all things; and as he progressed in life, he knew that they were from on high. The Lord’s very presence was in them.
We may not become prominent in world affairs, or leaders of men, but let us remember that the sphere of one who follows the Lord spreads far and wide. And as we keep the commandments, our duties become to us more than a mere routine, more than a concession to necessity, and in a very real way become transfigured before us. The duty that lies close to us may be a means of heavenly discipline. We know but little of the results of any action that we may perform from a good conscience, but we are greatly aided if a heavenly spirit fills all our work. All work may thus become transfigured and a means of building up the character and the life. Then man is no longer a mere drudge, but one who bears blessings for the community. Thus everyone’s lot is lightened if we are mindful of Him who dwelt in the bush. The Lord’s making Himself known in the bush is a prophecy of His revealing Himself to men in His Humanity, taking on our nature. Moses marveled at the bush; so should we think of the wonder of the Incarnation, how our Lord was present in our flesh, taught men new wisdom, fought their battles, raised the standard of life, and led men to know His name. What is our relation to Him that dwelt in the bush? If we are maturing in spiritual life, there will be an ever deepening personal relation with the Lord, with Him who dwelt in a frail humanity on earth. This relation, which comes from worship and faithful living, will produce many effects in us.
In the first place we shall take a broader view of life in general. We shall look out beyond our own little circle for evidence of God’s goodness. Moses had led Israel to the entrance of the Holy Land, and from Mount Nebo he was permitted to view the Holy Land. We too, if we keep the commandments, will be able to envision the land to which we are journeying, and as we do so we shall become less worldly and realize that we are here only to prepare ourselves for the eternal life.
And then we shall become more hopeful in regard both to others and to ourselves. The worldly man is sure to look on the dark side of things. He lives in doubt and fear. But he whose experiences have led him to see something of the goodness and providence of the Lord is filled with trust and hope. He looks forward to a good time for the world. It is this hopeful spirit that makes life worth living. Without some vision of the Lord life is hopeless indeed.
As we keep the commandments, there will come a state of the soul more restful and beautiful, for they are the means by which we get rid of our defects, our doubts, and our sins that have troubled us on our journey through life. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.”
The experiences of Moses must have been very impressive – his call, the plagues visited upon the Egyptians, the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army, the victory over Amalek, the healing of the waters of Marah, the manna, the giving of the commandments at Sinai, the fiery serpents, and the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle. These represent trials and temptations through which the Lord leads us, and we too should be able to see in our past the Lord’s kind hand which has saved us alive from many enemies.
At times Moses was tempted to falter and to give up his task, but doubtless his memory of the Lord’s presence and power gave him hope and strength. And with hope comes courage, the courage to meet life as it comes to us, the ability to meet without flinching the sorrows and trials, the sickness and bereavement that must surely come to us all. It is indeed a blessing to have the hope and courage that never fail, to trust in the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.
So may it be with us. If on our journey we are depressed and things seem very dark for us, we are to remember that the Lord, who dwelt in the bramble in ancient days still dwells with us and will reveal His presence if only we will obey and trust Him. As the days pass, confidence will deepen, until at last we come to that mountain top whence we can get a view of the world beyond, and – thinking of the wonders of the past, the battles, the trials, the discouragements, the many changes which have come to us – rest our faith and life on the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush.